Thailand's ubiquitous fried noodle dish, phad Thai, is fast, cheap, and easy to make, and very filling. Serve with fresh bean sprouts and spring onions, plus a dash of lime juice, and finish it in true Thai style, with crushed peanuts, chilli flakes, a little sugar, and some spicy vinegar. Delicious!
Before we went to live in Thailand, most of the Thai food I’d tried was eye-wateringly spicy at best, and downright painful at worst. My first time of chilli-wimpish embarrassment was back in 2003, when amato mio and I had been seeing each other for a couple of months, and he took me to one of his favourite Thai restaurants. Although the flavours were amazing, the food was far too hot for me: I did my best but honestly, after only a few forkfuls, I thought I was going to cry.
I’d never had anything that painful in my mouth before!
I felt so embarrassed admitting that I’ve always been a chilli wuss… but he didn’t think badly of me. I think I realised then that he was a keeper. After that, we tried a few other Thai restaurants, and I discovered that phad Thai suited me very nicely.
When we moved to Thailand, I was really looking forward to discovering all the foods I’d not been able to try – the foods you never see on restaurant menus in the West. I wasn’t disappointed... although there were many times when I found dishes which were even more evil than the ones I’d tried in Britain.
Fortunately, there were also plenty of times I discovered foods which weren’t trying to kill me.
What I didn’t realise prior to moving to Thailand was that phad Thai - which was popularised during WWII by prime minister, Plaek Phibunsongkhram*, as part of his efforts to promote Thai nationalism - is such a ubiquitous dish that every other street food cart and hole-in-the-wall café serves it.
Each to their own recipe too - no two people cook phad Thai the same.
As someone who has now eaten literally hundreds of plates of phad Thai from one end of Thailand to the other, I feel I am pretty qualified to make this statement!
(*He actually staged a coup in order to become prime minister... we lived through the latest coup in Thailand, which rather ironically, happened a couple of months after we’d finished filming with Pierce Brosnan, Lake Bell, and Owen Wilson in their then-titled movie, The Coup. It’s now been released, and the name has been changed to No Escape. It's not very good.)
I also discovered that without exception, phad Thai from a street cart or little café, served up on a plastic plate or a small basket made from a banana leaf, was not only far superior to anything found in swanky restaurants, but also cost considerably less (around 25 baht/50p).
For me, phad Thai is one of my favourite comfort foods, and whenever we return to the Land of Smiles, this delicious dish of fried noodles, bamboo shoots, and tofu is always the first thing I want to eat.
Some people put cabbage or other greens in, some like to add a few crisp green beans or carrots. Some serve it accompanied by a thin vegetable broth, some with a dish of raw cabbage, herbs, and pak nork on the side. As is so often the way, there are as many ways to cook phad Thai as there are towns in Thailand.
That said, there are still some basic rules which need to be followed; you still need to get the balance of hot, sour, salty, and sweet, although what generally happens is that once the dish is cooked, you use the condiments on the table to season your phad Thai the way you like it.
By the time we left Thailand, I was actually adding chilli flakes to mine. Go me!
Where to buy extra-firm pressed tofu
Extra-firm pressed tofu, by the way, can be bought pretty cheaply at Asian supermarkets, and usually comes wrapped in plastic, not in a tub of water. Sometimes it’s bright yellow on the outside – don’t worry, it’s only turmeric, which is used as an anti-bacterial agent. I suspect this is more common in places like Thailand, where blocks of tofu are just piled up on the market stall, without any kind of packaging.
Of course, this being a Thai dish, fish sauce (nam pla) is usually used, however, here is my recipe for vegan fish sauce (mai nam pla).
Vegan Phad Thai
- sweet and sour
- packed with protein (more when you add crushed peanuts)
- full of Vitamin C
- really delicious
Whether you have this with some broth, a side of raw veggies, or on its own, this vegan phad Thai is a dish that will have you longing to visit the Land of Smiles.
Gin hai aroi kha!
Do you like phad Thai? What's your favourite Thai dish?
Vegan Phad Thai
- A handful of dried rice noodles c.50g/2 oz
- 1½ tablespoon palm sugar
- 1½ tablespoon vegan fish sauce
- 2 tablespoon tamarind paste
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil rice bran, peanut, rapeseed etc.
- 50 g extra-firm tofu (or extra firm, pressed to remove excess moisture), cut into bite-sized pieces
- 3 cloves garlic sliced
- 1 Thai shallot sliced
- A handful of fresh bean sprouts c.50g/2oz
- A few fresh coriander cilantro leaves, torn
- ½ vegan omelette shredded
To serve (also optional):
- A few extra bean sprouts
- Whole spring onion
- Wedge of lime
- Crushed peanuts
- Chilli flakes
- White sugar
- Chilli vinegar
- Place the noodles into a large bowl, pour over enough warm water to cover, leave to soak for around 10 minutes, and then drain once softened. Don’t over-soak!
- Prepare the phad Thai sauce: In a wok, over a medium-low heat, dissolve the sugar in the vegan fish sauce. Once there are no grainy bits left, add the tamarind, and mix well, so that everything is blended.
- Taste the flavour balance; if it needs to be a bit more salty, sour, or sweet, add a little more 'fish' sauce, tamarind, or sugar.
- Tip into a suitable container, and set aside. Turn up the heat to its highest setting, and get the wok good and hot.
- Add the oil to the wok, and once it’s hot, add the tofu, and stir-fry for 60 seconds or so. Add the garlic and shallot, and fry for another 30 seconds.
- Drain and add the noodles, and stir fry for around 2 minutes, until soft, then mix in enough sauce to just coat everything (you may have some left over).
- Add the beansprouts, pieces of vegan omelette if using, and again, stir-fry for 30 seconds.
- Turn out onto a plate or shallow dish, topped with the coriander leaves.
- Serve with spring onion, a few raw bean sprouts, some tomatoes if desired, and a wedge of lime. Traditionally, crushed peanuts, chilli flakes, white sugar, and chilli vinegar are used as condiments to season phad Thai at the table.
- 1 cup = US cup = 240 ml
- 1 tablespoon = US/UK = 15 ml
- 1 fl oz = US = 30 ml
This looks so good! I am adding this to my growing list of recipes to try!
Yay! Do let me know what you think of it when you do make it, won't you? Hope you love it! xx
This was so good. I'm so glad I went through the process of making the not fish sauce. Honestly this was better than some of the Phad Thai I've had at restaurants. I've always been a little intimidated with cooking Asian foods, so I appreciate a recipe with easy to find ingredients and simple instructions with big flavor payoffs. So thanks for an awesome recipe!
Wow, this is high praise indeed - thank you so much, Megan! I am beyond happy that you loved this phad Thai so much, and so pleased that you found it easy to make.
Before I learned how to make real Asian food, I was a bit intimidated too - I suspect it's because of repeated attempts at making stir-fries without much knowledge of Asian ingredients or techniques! I received my first wok for my 21st birthday... a present from my son's father, who was great at making stir-fries and curries, and who taught me the basics. However, despite being able to make passable Asian food, it really wasn't until I went to live in Thailand (and then India) that my Asian cooking really took off. Suddenly, everything clicked into place, and I realised how easy it actually is! xx
I love phad Thai too! It was one of the first Thai dishes I tried and one that I could eat before I started eating spicy food too! Thank you so much for sharing with #CookOnceEatTwice!
Phad Thai... gateway yums to a Thai food habit! xx
Kirsty Hijacked By Twins
Phad Thai is a favourite of mine, from the first time I tried it I loved it! This looks perfect. Sorry for the late comment and I hope you have a good week. Thank you for sharing with #CookBlogShare x
I know what you mean, Kirsty... it blew me away the first time I had it - I wanted to eat it all the time for at least the first month I lived in Thailand! Ha ha! xx
I'm loving all these Thai dishes you are making at the moment! I'm pretty sure the pad thai I had in Thailand had egg in it - did you find a vegan version easy to find out there?
I just went without the egg in Thailand, Mandy. K would have egg, plus prawns too. Always four prawns. So much so that we nicknamed them the Chiang Mai Four - whenever we go out to a restaurant, and he has something with prawns, he still counts them to see how many there are!
If I'm making phad Thai just for me, I generally don't bother with making a vegan omelette or scramble to go into it but if I'm cooking for both of us, I usually make a small one with chickpea flour. xx
Becca @ Amuse Your Bouche
I can't stand painfully spicy things either, I don't really see the point if you can't even taste the food! Love the sound of your phad thai though - sounds really tasty.
I agree - I just don't get overly spicy food. One of my friends in Thailand told me that her in-laws' food is so spicy that they eat it as quickly as possible before it begins to hurt! I really, really don't get that at all! I understand that spicy food stimulates appetite but it seems like such a waste to have food you can't really taste! Of course, I suspect that you and I were both raised to eat more slowly, so we could really taste and appreciate our food... not bolt it down before it injures us! Ha ha! xx
wow Nico, I am so jealous of all the amazing places you have lived! I love this Phad Thai, it's so easy to make! You are making me so hungry talking about all the amazing Thai street food. Love it!
I wish more places in Europe had the kind of street food culture that exists in south Asia, Pretty... there's nothing quite like going out for a walk, and stopping at a street cart or food hawker. Gosh, I really could eat some aloo bonda right now! Or deep-fried chillis!
Some of the best food I've ever had comes from street carts! In Georgetown (Penang), in the evenings, everyone, regardless of who they were, where they worked etc., would eat at street carts. The ones near us had plastic tables and chairs, and they'd be full of people in evening gowns and dinner suits sitting side by side with street cleaners, office workers, tourists, etc. And because it was Malaysia, there was such a fantastic mix of Indian, Malay, and Chinese locals, along with visitors of so many other nationalities.
I love that street food has no boundaries - it has a way of being a great leveller. When you eat at a street cart, you're the same as everyone else! xx
Ooh, I don't do well with too much spice either!
If it's one thing I absolutely love, it's Phad Thai! And your recipe looks super fresh, easy to make, colorful, and inviting! Nico, you've done it again with this mouthwatering, flavorful recipe! 🙂
Something that always made me grin in Slovenia and Croatia is that I was not in any way on my own as a chilli wimp! In fact, I think that most people there are even more sensitive to chilli than me!
Phad Thai is great though, isn't it Elinor? Such an easy dish to make, and so comforting and satisfying.
Thank you so much for your kind words, I really appreciate them! xx